10 Exercises That Are Actually Bad for You

Exercise is a key element of any life extension protocol. Keeping your body in top shape helps you feel younger, perform better mentally and physically, and lowers the risk of many diseases. If you’re out of practice at the gym, there are plenty of ways to get in shape – so many it can be hard to decide where to begin. Should I focus on cardio? Maybe weight training is the way to go? How about Pilates? Sometimes the best place to start is figuring out which options are the worst. To help you focus your fitness efforts, we put together a list exercises you should absolutely avoid.

Behind-the-Neck Lateral Pull-Downs

So, you want a sexy back. There’s nothing wrong with that, but how you get there can present some problems. Enter the behind-the-neck lat pull-down. Anyone trying this exercise for the first time probably noticed the need to jut their head forward to keep the bar from smacking the back of their head. This very motion puts undue strain on the most vulnerable section of your spine — your neck. A safe, simple alternative is to pull the bar down in front of your head, rather than behind. And in case you’ve been wondering, “lat” is short for latissimus dorsi.  

Seated Leg Extensions

It may feel like you’re getting a great workout, but this exercise can turn that burn into severe aches and pains. Seated leg extensions put the load of the weight on your on your shin or ankle. This places unnatural strain on the ligaments and tendons surrounding the kneecaps, which can either aggravate pre-existing conditions, or cause new injuries. A safer alternative to train your quadriceps are split squats, which allow for a more fluid range of motion.

Upright Rows

Have you ever wondered what athletes are talking about when they lament their torn rotator cuffs? Well, if you want to find out firsthand, then keep on doing those upright rows. This exercise is one of the worst things you can do for your shoulders. Executing upright rows places your shoulder into an unfavorable position known as internal rotation. While this position is not necessarily bad by itself, adding weight resistance leads to the bones in your shoulder pinching a particular tendon. Repeating pinching (or impingement) can cause the tendon snap. If you want to build up your shoulders and traps, you might want to try the military press instead.

Sit Ups

Yes, it turns out this gym class staple isn’t the best exercise for any body, at any age. Performing standard floor sit ups put strain in all the wrong places. Lifting your back flat off the floor engages your hip flexors, which pull directly on your spine to raise your torso. This can lead to lower back pain and can even wear down the discs in your spine. Not only are your exposing your body to risk, but you’re doing so for little reward. Since your lower back is doing most of the work, your abs, the muscles you’re trying to train, are missing out on the action. Crunches are a safer and more effective exercise, as your lower back remains on the ground, encouraging you to use your core. But, as you’ve likely already heard, the real key to a six-pack is proper diet. The old adage that a six-pack is made in the kitchen is true – you need to be ~10% body fat or lower to look truly shredded.

Bench Dips

Biceps tend to get all the glory, but working on your triceps is just as important for getting high caliber guns. Bench dips may seem like a convenient solution to training triceps, but the cons of this exercise far outweigh the pros. Remember that pesky position called internal rotation? Like upright rows, bench dips expose your shoulders to the same problems caused by adding weight to this range of motion. If you’re determined to do dips, using parallel bars in place of a bench is a better bet.

Back Extensions

Showing your lower back a little love isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want to lose those love handles. But it’s possible to do too much of a good thing. Contracting back muscles to the point of creating a severe arch in the back is known as hyperextension. Hyperextension places unnecessary strain on the spine, so much so that it can cause slipped discs and even fractures. Back-extension machines are a common culprit of back hyperextension, particularly when people add weights to the equation, or perform the exercise too quickly to maintain proper form. The Bird Dog exercise is a safer exercise to tone your lower back, while providing the added benefit of working your core.

Inner and Outer Thigh Machines

Technically called adductor and abductor machines, inner and outer thigh machines are pretty popular in gyms. Unfortunately, these machines can do more harm than good. Exercising your inner and outer thighs in a seated position can put too much strain on these relatively small muscles, muscles intended to provide support, not handle heavy lifting. Straining these muscles in this manner can aggravate lower back and hip problems. Instead of isolating your inner and outer thighs, try exercises that allow you to share the burden with other muscle groups, like skater jumps or Pilates.

Rounded Back Deadlifts

Deadlifts can be an excellent full body exercise, if done correctly. There’s more to weight lifting than just getting the weight off the ground. Proper form ensures you’re using the right muscles, while protecting your body from suffering injuries. The deadlift is one of the easiest exercises to get wrong, and poses some serious problems if done incorrectly. Lifting too much weight or using poor form can lead to herniated, or blown, discs in your spine. There are many components to proper deadlift technique (more than we can delve into here), but one aspect that people often forget is to maintain a neutral spine. If you find yourself hunching over the barbell, you’re off to a bad (and potentially dangerous) start to your workout. Remember, don’t deadlift like Drake.

Electric Abdominal Belts (and Other Gimmicks)

The key word in the phrase “work out” is “work.” If you don’t break a sweat when exercising, odds are you won’t see much progress anytime soon. But businesses know we lead busy lives. We may mean to go to the gym, but finding the time between work and family isn’t always easy. This is why so many “leisurely exercise” machines have existed and will continue to exist. Want to get in a workout while sitting at your desk? Of course you do! But strapping a low-grade bug zapper to your tummy isn’t likely to lead to abs of steel. Though most exercise gimmicks might not cause bodily harm, they can result in financial sting. Save yourself some money and go for a run instead.

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